Get a broadband committee and learn and maybe work with other cities on fiber, three people in Wiscasset advised on July 14. The city has internet service, but that and Wiscasset’s relatively low density make upgrading to fiber more difficult, said Carla Dickstein, co-founder of the Maine Broadband Coalition. and Matt Seigel of Midcoast Internet Coalition told the Global Plan committee on Zoom.
“We’re going to be left in the dust if we don’t measure up to what’s going on right now,” Dickstein said. “If we care about … the future of Wiscasset, we need modern technology … and it’s not cable.” She and Siegel said unserved cities can compete better for subsidies, and cities denser than Wiscasset can better attract providers to add fiber.
Siegel said it is essential that the city define broadband in writing as a priority and form a broadband committee. “Without connectivity, our small communities will wither and die. “
It looks like companies can make the best case for fiber, said Anne Leslie, a committee member. “It’s more convincing, I think, than saying my internet is terrible.” She said Dickstein’s description of a regional public broadband service interested her. Dickstein said cities can combine public and private funds, create a business model, own the public service, use a private provider, and get tax obligations. If local taxes aren’t an option, county funding could still be, she said.
Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission executive director Mary Ellen Barnes said most towns in the area have broadband committees and she’s really hoping Wiscasset gets one. Cities are “in different places” on broadband, like Westport Island expanding with Spectrum, “but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to look further,” Barnes said.
Dickstein said Wiscasset’s last comprehensive plan had “a major hole” in not having a broadband section. Strong broadband supports businesses, telecommuting, telehealth and education, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, she said.
The discussion was “super helpful,” said Compensation Plan Committee Chair Sarah Whitfield. Whitfield, also chairman of selectmen, said chief executive Dennis Simmons recently mentioned the idea of the broadband committee and the board will need to discuss it further.
The compensation plan committee will deal with agriculture on August 2 and education on September 20, Whitfield said.